If you hang around manga geeks long enough, there's one word that you're almost certain to hear at some point, "doujinshi". But, what is doujinshi, and where can you read it?
How does one obtain these fabled texts? And what the heck is a Comiket, anyway?!
All these answers and much more are awaiting you below.
What is Doujinshi?
Doujinshi is the term for any self-published reading material in Japan, whether that be a magazine, manga, light novel or anything else.
While there are doujinshi that have original stories created by amateurs or professionals, most of them are derivatives of established works or characters and many of them have sexual themes (though there are plenty of others which are perfectly suitable for underage readers).
Essentially, let's say that you're watching an anime or reading a manga and you want to see two characters hook up, but the series refuses to bend itself to your whims and desires. The odds are good that there is an amateur doujinshi out there that pairs up your favorite characters.
The History of Doujinshi
Despite what you might think, doujinshi is not a new thing in Japan. In fact, it actually first appeared during the Meiji era.
Doujinshi has since become so intertwined within Japanese pop culture that it would be impossible to remove without a concerted effort from all publishers in the industry.
It's also worth noting that while it was first introduced in the late 1800s, it wasn't until photocopy technology became more prevalent in the Showa era that doujinshi really hit its stride and found widespread popularity, though that isn't to say that they weren't incredibly popular before that point.
Perhaps the biggest sign that doujinshi had reached a feverish pitch though was when the first Comiket (short for comic market) was established in 1975 with only a few hundred attendees and less than 100 creators (or circles) participating.
Held twice a year, Comiket eventually grew so large that it moved into the Tokyo Big Sight building (which you've almost certainly seen if you've watched enough anime) where 20 acres worth of tables are set up and hundreds of thousands of attendees buy, sell, and trade their favorite doujinshi.
Is Doujinshi Legal?
Copyright law in Japan is different from what it is in many western countries, which has helped doujinshi thrive.
If you were to create an amateur comic using famous characters and attempt to sell that comic for profit in the United States, you'd have lawyers appearing on your doorstep in no time serving you with a cease and desist.
However, in Japan, you can do this with almost no fear of repercussions because it's only illegal if the original copyright holder complains, and they will rarely complain.
There are certainly examples of companies in Japan being protective of their IPs, but for the most part, copyright holders are fine with doujinshi of their characters. Why is this, though?
Well, let's look at it this way: let's say you're a creator and you create a new IP that gets published and finds a few fans. Wouldn't it be better if there were more fans of your IP?
What would be a good way to go about doing that? How about if your fans created their own unique works that use your characters or world and share it with other people, thus exposing them to something that they might not have been aware of before?
But what if that amateur author puts your characters into compromising situations or settings? Well, you have a choice.
You can either sue them and potentially turn that fan off from ever participating with your IP ever again, or you can let them go and see it as free advertising for your characters or world which could potentially bring more eyes to your original product.
Obviously, there are pros and cons to both options and this feature isn't trying to tell anyone which one is the better option but rather explains what the thought process is behind this concept.
It should also be obvious that this is the most basic explanation possible for why and how these amateur comics exist in Japan, as there are many more reasons why copyright holders turn a blind eye to parodies of their own works.
Who Makes Doujinshi?
According to one survey, most doujinshi creators are students who don't even make a living from the sales of their creations, though others have side employment and create their works in their spare time.
In that same survey, it was revealed that only 2% of those polled sell over 1,000 copies of their works, while almost half of those polled say that they sell less than 30 copies of their works.
Very few artists are making boatloads of money off these sales (there are exceptions to that rule, naturally) and only a small percentage of these artists make it as professional manga artists at any point in the future.
However, some very popular mangakas and artists have produced doujinshi at a point in their careers, including:
- Kiyohiko Azuma (Azumanga Daioh, Yotsuba)
- Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma ½, InuYasha, Rin-ne)
- Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina, Negima)
- CLAMP (xxxHolic, Code Geass)
Where Can You Read Doujinshi?
Over the last few years, as doujinshi has become more popular, there have become more places to read and buy series legally online.
Up until recently, getting your hands on authentic doujinshi was something that you could only do if you knew someone or you stumbled across them at a convention. Even then, the odds of them being translated into English were somewhere between slim to none.
Luckily, the times are changing and companies are realizing that there is actually a market for these materials.
One company, Irodori, has launched an online doujinshi store to sell doujinshi that has been translated into English in the west. However, this is one of few sites where you can buy online copies of translated doujinshi.
There are some doujinshi available to read on webcomic sites such as Tapas and Webtoon. You can also find fanfiction doujinshi on community sites like Pixiv and Deviant Art.
Doujinshi is a unique thing within Japanese pop culture that could probably never be truly replicated to perfection outside of their borders. While it's a wonderful age we live in that thanks to the internet we're finally seeing these materials make their way into the west, it's been a long time coming, to be honest.